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How to Know When Your Journey Through Grief is Complete

Several months ago I asked my psychiatrist how I’d know when I had completed the grieving process. My most pressing need in recovery is/was to reconcile my losses and Gracen’s prognosis with my beliefs about God. I defiantly needed the Holy Spirit to make sense of it all within the context of scripture. That process has been impacted by the overwhelmingly raw agony of emotion cursing through my system. Anger, fear, discouragement and defeat cycled and recycled through my heart and mind constantly. There was, there is, no escape from that cycle without processing both my thoughts and feelings.

Frankly, following the death of my daughters everything I saw, heard and thought was filtered through loss. My perspective shifted and words, actions and thoughts were interpreted in a far more literal and somewhat cynical sense in spite of recognizing the good intentions of others. I understood the intention but was frustrated by others inability and/or refusal to see things from my perspective. Others fairly vibrated with the need to fix the unfixable. To justify with some grand overall plan and purpose. To extinguish the palpable pain. To escape the negativity so they were not inadvertently soiled by it. Those individuals probably felt the same frustration with me. 

Unbeknownst to most, inside an intense desire to be understood refused to be appeased or denied. It took root and demanded attention, refusing to be placated and demanding validation. And every bit of it was entwined with my faith in Jesus Christ.

So I set about entangling my seemingly contradictory thoughts and feelings with the truth of scripture. I did my best to ignore the advice of the untested and sought refuge with broken believers who shared my struggle to cling to and reconcile my faith. I withdrew to escape judgment and rebuke and carve out a safe, secure, silent space in which I could wrestle with the complex truths of scripture. And in that place I made peace with the contradictions of what love in action looks like. I meditated on the complexities of God’s promises and plans regarding my earthly existence and eternal purposes. In time, my internal struggle ended. I found answers that satisfied and let go of the unexplainable. I made peace with my losses . . . with Gracen’s prognosis. 

However, just as Jacob walked away from wrestling with the angel limping, I have also paid a high price in the search for understanding and peace. Depression dogs my steps and anxiety chases after me. And I wonder, have I processed grief only to be handicapped by the mental health issues that rode in on the coattails of loss? Will I ever escape them?

When I asked my psychiatrist how I would know when I had completed my journey through grief he responded that I will have healed when I no longer processed everything through the filter of loss. I will no longer analyze every thought, feeling and action in minute detail in regards to death. He told me I had not yet arrived at that place; but I know I’m making progress.

A long time ago, before Bethany and Katie died, I came to the realization that disease had thrust me into a constant grief cycle. As Gracen and Katie’s bodies changed, as hard won abilities were lost to the ravages of disease, I would grieve, rebel, adjust and adapt to new and painful realities. I would strive against, and then for, acceptance of less than palatable changes. 

I am not sure I will ever completely succeed at living life without filtering it through loss. Loss is destined to color my life and future. However, I always come back to Ecclesiastes 7:2,

“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting, for that is the end of every man, and the living should take it to heart.” 

And the living should take it to heart . . . 

The living should take it to heart . . . 

Maybe I’m right where I’m suppose to be.

There are valuable life lessons that are only learned through the crucible death and suffering. That is not so much a negative thing as it is a painful reality. At times I will conquer the fears and sorrow that share space in my heart and mind and at other times I will once again find myself overwhelmed by them. That is the curse of humanity – the cost of the fall of man. For as many times as others have suggested or implied that I should move on I wonder if my Savior is whispering, “Stay. Linger with Me here in this hard place for just awhile longer. Talk to Me. Don’t turn away. There is a gift of great worth awaiting you.”

“Call on me in prayer and I will answer you. I will show you great and mysterious things which you still do not know about.” ~ Jeremiah 33:3 NET Bible

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace [Who imparts all blessing and favor], Who has called you to His [own] eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will Himself complete and make you what you ought to be, establish and ground you securely, and strengthen, and settle you.” ~ 1 Peter 5:10 AMPC

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2017 in Faith, Grief

 

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Common Thoughts and Feelings of Grieving Parents 

This morning I opened the Facebook app on my iPad and started scrolling through my news feed. A post from a grief site caught my attention so I ducked over to the loss of a child FB page and started scrolling. . . 

And my heart broke all over again.

As I scrolled through the posts I read such raw anguish. . . 

I heard my own thoughts echo back through the words of others.

Despair.
Discouragement.
Defeat.
How did this happen?
How could this have happened?
Why did this happen?
Who am I now?
What am I doing?
Why can’t I get it together?
How do I go on? . . . Do I even want to?

I’m so angry!
I feel numb. . . detached . . . lonely.
I have no friends left.
If I’m not happy others don’t want to be around me.

And so it goes. . . so many pain filled thoughts and feelings.

And I’ve put my emotional armor on.

I read these things and give a knowing intellectual nod to each one . . . 

But I refuse to draw any closer.

I refuse to engage my emotions.

I can’t shoulder their pain along with my own.

Today, 

I have nothing to give.

My arms are so weighted that I cannot reach back for the one who so desperately needs a hand to hold.

I’m still broken.

And yet,

I feel guilty and ashamed that I can’t formulate words of hope, support and encouragement for another hurting parent.

Not today.

The words just won’t come.

Maybe tomorrow. . . 

But what of all those hurting souls that need a word today?

I am so thankful for the many bereaved parents who step up and in on the days I can’t. Those who are there for me and others with understanding, encouragement and sometimes righteous indignation.

I’d never wish another parent into the child loss community, but I am so very thankful that I’m not alone.

And on the days when I am weak – when the well is dry, others are stronger and extend the hand of courage to the weak and the wounded.

I need the Holy Spirit to fill me before I can be poured out once again for another.

We need each other.

How we need each other!

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2017 in Grief

 

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Still Gone


“It doesn’t matter how much I heal or how much emotional processing I go through or how much I pray or go to therapy, whatever, he’s still gone.” Said the young man whose older brother died eight years ago. 

I can relate to those words on so many levels. They’re pretty straightforward, but I’ve found myself meditating on them. In some corner of my mind I recognize there is a nuance that is not so straightforward but is profoundly important. 

And here it is hiding within these three words, “. . . he’s still gone.”

“He’s still gone.” 

I have spent the last three years processing my emotions in the aftermath of the collision that killed two of my daughters. Those losses piggybacked onto the loss of my son almost 25 years ago. And then they were interwoven with the knowledge that my 21 year old daughter, my only surviving child, was born with a rare genetic degenerative neuromuscular disease. Believe me when I say that I’ve processed emotions. 

Relentlessly. 

I’ve prayed. Prayers of anger and despair. Questing prayers. Begging entreaties. Oh yes, I’ve prayed.

I’ve even tried trauma therapy and grief counseling.

I’ve tried finding meaning in some global purpose. Painted on a positive outlook. Whatever.

And they’re still gone.

Do we somehow, unconsciously assume that emotional processing, therapy, and prayer will change that unacceptable truth? Do we think it will fill the gaping holes left in our hearts when our children die? Do we think that grieving will make the loss of our loved ones okay in time? 

And maybe that’s why “they’re still gone” echoes so hollowly through my heart and mind. Maybe I am living with the unrealistic expectation that at some point “they’re still gone” won’t hurt anymore. Is that the goal of grieving?

What expectation should I have? What will healing look like? Feel like? Is it even possible? And maybe that’s why his words, “he’s still gone” communicate a straightforward fact but if you really let them sink into your soul they communicate so much more. Resignation, sorrow, despair, and feelings far to deep to articulate. 

He’s still gone.

She’s still gone.

They’re still gone.

And maybe that’s why I’m stuck. Why I can’t move forward or get better – whatever it is that society expects of me.

No matter what I do, my personal reality is that they’re still gone. Until the end of my days they will be missing from me. Maybe there are some wounds that sink so deep into an individual that they can never be healed this side of heaven. And unless I make peace with the immeasurable worth of an eternal future (not just acknowledge it-not just understand it-not just hope for it) and even if I do make peace with eternity, the wounds I have sustained will never fully heal. They will always hurt because they’re still gone. 

Never will I be whole again. 

Never will it stop hurting. 

Never will I be okay with their absence. 

Still gone.

Still gone.

Still gone.

It echoes and echoes and echoes through me. Those words hold an unquantifiable depth of meaning and they leave my heart torn and bleeding.

Still gone.

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2017 in Grief

 

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What Bereaved Parents and Those Who Care for Them Need to Know

“It gets worse before it gets better.” Those were the words the pastor offered to a newly bereaved couple whose daughter had died unexpectedly.

And you should know that he is right.

Bereaved parents are stunned when four months, six month, nine months down the road they find their grief remains overwhelmingly raw. 

The shock has worn off.

Their hearts have been flayed open and the wound is still bleeding.

It doesn’t help that those outside the loss community expect healing to be happening when the magnitude of the loss is still seeping into the soul.

The depth of loss has not been fully realized when the funeral is over. No, in the weeks and months and years ahead bereaved parents are confronted with the realization that they didn’t just lose their child but that they lost the hope, dreams and expectations they held for that child as well. They lost their child’s future, but they also lost their own future expectations (marriages and grand babies, to name a few) and they grieve for both what their child will never experience and what they themselves will miss out on.

Frequently bereaved parents squelch their grief as they try to remain strong for their surviving children. They can’t fall apart because they are so desperately needed by those too young to understand or to express their grief in healthy ways. That’s one reason why the average length of time it takes for parents to work through the grief process averages five years or more – the longest bereavement period of any loss known to man.

My daughter’s grief counselor told her that many teens don’t grieve over lost siblings for four or five years. They experience delayed grief which I think results from trying to be strong for their parents. The entire home is in upheaval. The sense of security that was taken for granted has been exposed for the fallacy that it is. Gone is the naïveté that we can protect those we love from harm. It’s a frightening experience.

It’s truly terrifying. 

And parents and siblings are often left dealing with problems that arise in the wake of the death. Financial pressure, legal issues, spiritual, emotional and health problems assault the family. Marriages and family relationships quake in the aftermath.

While the outside world expects healing to begin, bereaved families are often sorting through compounding problems. They are reeling from the fallout and haven’t really begun the healing process.

Bereaved parents and the outside world need to know and understand that grieving the loss of a son or daughter – regardless of their age – is the most devastating and destructive loss experience. Both the bereaved and those who care for them need to anticipate and make accommodations for a long and drawn out grieving process, because it definitely gets exponentially worse before it gets better. 

For those who care about the bereaved, grieve with those who grieve. Let go of the expected length of bereavement. Don’t reduce grief to a simple bid for sympathy or pity. And be ever aware that for the grief-stricken feeling bad feels bad, but feeling better feels bad too. It’s a psychological hurdle grieving families frequently face. There is a battle raging within the hearts and minds of loss parents. What they know to be true doesn’t “feel” true and they struggle to reconcile the conflicting messages received from the heart and mind. The solution is not as simple as mind over matter. 

People often ask me what to say or do for someone who is grieving. So many times I’ve heard others advise just be present and listen. Both those things are helpful but not necessarily healing. In my experience validating feelings is the single most healing thing you can provide the bereaved.

Grief, for a bereaved parent can be likened to a pressure sore, more commonly known as a bedsore. Pressure sores develop when an individual stays in one position for too long. Unlike other wounds, a pressure sore grows deeper instead of spreading wider as other wounds do. They can be deceptively dangerous because they rapidly eat through layers of flesh below the affected skin to the tendons and the bones beneath if not treated promptly. Treatment involves the painful scraping away of the dead tissue to reach the healthy tissue below. Ointments is applied, the wound is packed and covered and daily cleaning is required to prevent the wound from getting deeper. 

Likewise, grief gets worse and deeper when exposed to the pressure of society to project a positive outlook or to work through their grief in the timeframe others deem appropriate. Shaming and silencing the bereaved for failing to heal, wallowing in grief, or throwing a pity party deepens the wound by invalidating the worth of the loved one lost. Venting the negative feelings helps to clear away the infection but refusing to validate those feelings is tantamount to leaving the wound exposed to the dirt and debris floating in the air. The wound gets worse and healing takes longer as the grief-stricken seek the understanding of others.

Validation is the antibiotic ointment applied to promote healing. The presence of “safe friends” (those who don’t criticize or try to fix the broken) is the packing and covering which provides a barrier between the open wound and the influences of the outside world. Frequent validation and affirmation keep the emotional wound clean providing an environment that encourages healing. The bad must be flushed out before the good can replace it. Unfinished grief occurs when we slap a bandaid on without cleaning and disinfecting the wound. The wound may no longer be visible to the outside world but is quietly festering beneath the bandaid that it covers. 

For the bereaved, be gentle and patient with yourself. You’ve been deeply wounded and deep wounds heal slowly. As the old song says, “The road is long with many a winding curve.” Grief isn’t supposed to feel good. 
It gets worse before it gets better; but it can and does get better.

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2017 in Grief

 

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How not to say the wrong thing – LA Times

Everyone has encountered those moments when they desperately want to comfort or encourage another individual only to find themselves at a loss for words or blurting out something that unintentionally hurts. 

Please check out the teaser below and follow the link to read this informative article that might just cure your foot in mouth disease! 

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When Susan had breast cancer , we heard a lot of lame remarks, but our favorite came from one of Susan’s colleagues. She wanted, she needed, to visit Susan after the surgery, but Susan didn’t feel like having visitors, and she said so. Her colleague’s response? “This isn’t just about you.”

Source: How not to say the wrong thing – LA Times

 
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Posted by on February 9, 2017 in Chronic Illness, Grief

 

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How To Bring Relief To Those Who Grieve | Michele Cushatt

The holidays are hard on the grieving. Gatherings surrounded by intact families, seem to taunt the bereaved with all that’s been lost—all that’s painfully absent in their own lives. Following Thanksgiving and Christmas comes the new year and all the expectation for a fresh start. Rarely do the bereaved feel this way.

The cold, dark months that follow often reflect the hearts of grieving families. Life comes to a screeching halt and also has a weird way of speeding past following the death of a loved one. It feels like you are standing still while the rest of the world rushes by. It doesn’t just “feel” this way; it happens. I remember the first time I really got out and around town following our accident. I was shocked to find a Cracker Barrel, a Chipolte’s and a new Walmart Convenience Store and Gas Station had been built. Life moved forward. I had not.

This blog post by Michele Cushatt, will help those who love the bereaved to minister to the hurting in 2017.

A teaser and a link to the full article can be found below. I hope you will take the time to follow the link and read the article.

“New Year’s Eve is supposed to be a celebration. A butt-kicking “goodbye” to the old year and raucous “hello” to the new one. After the year our family had, we were ready for both. So I prepared the food, pulled out the games and puzzles, and chilled sparkling cider to the delight of my children. By dinner, …”

Source: How To Bring Relief To Those Who Grieve | Michele Cushatt

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2016 in Grief

 

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No, No, No!

My heart lies in tatters once again as I hear of the loss of another son, another grandson. It’s personal this time. People I know and love . . . the second such family in two months time . . . it makes me nauseous.

Oh, how helpless I feel!

I don’t want to be there to help. . .

No, no, no!

I want to rewind the clock so this is not their present stunned and horrified reality!

I want to save them from this anguish like none other.

And since I can’t. . .

I want to draw them close and catch their tears.

I want to receive and heal their broken and distraught hearts.

I want to listen to every painful word and let them know they are loved.

That God still loves them—will still be faithful to them—that there are mercies.

“It is of the LORD’s mercies that we are not consumed because his mercies never diminish. They are new every morning; great is thy faith[fulness].” ~ Lamentations 3:22-23 (Jubilee Bible 2000)

There is no silver lining! Nothing will ever make this loss acceptable or justify it for the family even when a good work of the Lord is later revealed. Silver linings imply that this horrible loss can be wrapped up in some future good, tied with a pretty bow and completely nullify the bad. The bad is made good.  Mercies, on the other hand, are blessings within and after and in spite of any tragedy.

There are mercies!

He can take the shattered pieces of our lives and in time make something good and beautiful but still cracked and scarred for all to see. He can make us beautifully broken but never unblemished by the ravages of sin in this world.

And everyday from the moment of loss until my friends step into eternity there will be mercies.

Small mercies in the midst of overwhelming sorrow and despair.

God doesn’t promise to fix this in the here and now. He promises to draw close, to catch our tears. He promises to be faithful to us. He promises new mercies every day.

Here I sit several states away and I can’t ignore the parallel that lies before me. I am afar off but the wonders of technology allow me to be close via phones, social media, Skype, cars and planes.

In many ways I can immediately respond if my friends reach out.

But they know I can’t wiggle my nose and be in actual hugging distance instantly.

They know that God sees them, and responds immediately to their call for help . . . but at the same time they are separated from His physical touch.

Consequently, the bereaved often feel alone, abandoned and betrayed. Please don’t correct these feelings. Imagine yourself in their shoes. Wouldn’t you feel the same? Validate those feelings! It’s not sinful to feel any of those things. Hear the words of the prophet Jeremiah:

“My soul has been cast far away from peace; I have forgotten happiness.
So I say, “My strength has perished And so has my hope and expectation from the Lord.”~ Lamentations 3:17-18 (Amplified Bible)

In many ways grieving families are simply inconsolable.

They don’t want to be consoled . . .

They want to go back!

Back to the moments before their lives were so tragically changed.

Three years later I can testify to this truth:  while life moves relentlessly forward there are parts of a parent’s heart that stand still in shocked horror indefinitely.

How can this be?

Surely, this is not real?

I’ll wake up from this nightmare!

God, please let me awake from this nightmare! 

Let it all be a terrible dream . . . a horrible mistake.

Please God, take this cup from me!

Yet the die has been cast and lives have unraveled in unimaginable ways.

Every sight thereafter will be seen through a lens of grief. Every written and spoken word filtered through grief. Every joyous event that follows will not be felt with pure, unblemished joy as in the past but will be bittersweet—tainted by the fact that you are no longer whole and you long for the presence of the one out of reach.

Faith will be shaken.

Minds fogged by confusion and fear, anger and frustration, and a sorrow so deep they will never find its limits.

They are shattered.

Not merely broken.

Utterly shattered!

Thus saith the Lord: A voice was heard on high of lamentation, of mourning, and weeping, of Rachel weeping for her children, and refusing to be comforted for them, because they are not. ~ Jeremiah 31:15 (Douay-Rheims Bible)

Mourn with those who mourn!

Weep with those who weep!

God’s mercies will be new every single morning.

He has His job; we have ours.

Today, once again, I mourn for and with others. Won’t you join with me and carry those who grieve before the throne of grace?

Anguished prayers for parents, siblings and family as a whole rise in begging supplication for God’s mercies to rain down—for His presence and love to wash over every shattered heart—for this to be nothing more than a terrible dream!

The desperate prayer of my heart to see faith made sight is far more urgent today.

“Hear my prayer, O LORD! Listen to my cry for help! Do not ignore my sobbing! For I am dependent on you, like one residing outside his native land; I am at your mercy, just as all my ancestors were.” ~ Psalm 39:12 (NET Bible) 

If you know of a bereaved family, please pray them through the holidays. If you don’t, please pray for the VanGulick, Vickers and Williams families who will each be missing their son, sibling or grandson while others gather with intact families and celebrate together. These families are secure in their confidence that Harry and O’rane will celebrate Christ’s birth in His presence; but their hearts will ache with the absence of their presence (as my friend Melanie is known to say). Please cry out to Jesus on their behalf!


*Follow the link below to read more about the beautiful sculpture pictured above. It’s only a few brief paragraphs.

Rachel Weeping for her Children Sculpture

 

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2016 in Faith, Grief, Links

 

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